What is the Future for Newer Marketing Channels in This New Era of Privacy Enforcement?

by Tim Stone, Global Head of Revenue Marketing Selligent Marketing Cloud

The use of AI-powered digital assistants has risen exponentially in recent years, with the number in use set to triple to eight billion by 2023. Yet, there is a growing scepticism about these smart devices, which are gaining a reputation for being ‘creepy’. Consumers are worried about being ‘spied on’, and many of us have had the experience of a targeted ad that seemed to know too much, with an alarming level of accuracy and personalisation. Recent studies also reflect this sentiment, with over two thirds of people stating that they found it creepy when they received ads based on what they said in conversations without prompting their voice assistant.

Tech companies are waking up to consumer concern about voice assistants; Amazon, Google, and Apple have all amended their privacy policies following reports that their voice assistants were eavesdropping on users. Consumer media is also voicing concern, with a recent study concluding that smart TVs and Internet streaming devices are collecting user data, and Wired has highlighted the ‘creepiness’ factor of television advertising’s shift to targeted ads.

Alongside voice assistants, other newer marketing channels, such as Instagram Stories, may not be immune from privacy concerns – especially if consumers assume that similar issues arise. So, what does this growing mistrust of emerging channels mean for marketers? Is it enough to notify users whenever their privacy is compromised? What should marketers do differently to ensure they do not alienate consumers?

A Personal Touch

Personalisation is nothing new; from the dawn of modern consumerism, offering a personal touch was a key differentiator for high-quality retailers and service providers keen to set themselves apart from the rest. Remembering client names, previous purchases, or children’s birthdays added that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that bonded retailer to customer. It fostered loyalty, repeat business, and positive word of mouth marketing.

Today’s connected consumers now want personalised messages and product recommendations at every touch point with a brand – an expectation that is being driven by skyrocketing advances in technology. But more than that, brands that don’t invest in personalisation will lose customers to competitors that manage to keep consumers engaged in relationships that grow over time. According to an Accenture study, over 75 per cent of consumers are more likely to purchase from retailers that know their name and purchase history and provide recommendations that are appropriately on taste. And in a global study of consumers, Selligent found that 52 per cent of consumers are more inclined to change brands if a company doesn’t offer personalised communication.

Consistency is also crucial; consumers value personalised experiences, but these experiences need to be delivered consistently across channels. Picture this: a customer receives an email and clicks through to a brand’s website, from there the customer opts to call the brand’s contact centre. In this scenario, the agent who takes that call should have real-time information of the customer’s journey so they can provide the next best action, unique to that customer. Only through the convergence of marketing, sales, and service can brands develop a 360-degree view of the customer and deliver the ultimate customer experience (CX) across all platforms.

While personalisation has become commonplace today, it has never been more important to get it right. Marketers walk a very fine line between positive personalised experiences and ‘creepiness’ – between giving customers exactly what they want and pushing them away. Marketers need to capitalise on technology trends without losing the consumer trust they worked so hard to obtain.

Consumers Value Privacy

Marketers face the challenge of how to balance the use of customers’ data without encroaching on their privacy. In this post-GDPR world, consumers are more aware of the value of their data and are less tolerant of it being used in the wrong way. Research shows that 41 per cent of users reduced their social media usage within the last 12 months due to privacy concerns. For many more – 74 per cent – privacy is more important than online experience. These are sobering figures for marketers whose job it is to get close to customers, to know their story, and to respond in appropriate ways.

But consumers are also savvy and understand that they need to share their personal data for the connected, personal, and relevant experiences they value. According to the Selligent Connected Consumer Index, 51 per cent of consumers are willing to share personal details for a more personalised experience. So, how can marketers leverage this opportunity? In embracing newer marketing channels, how can they get the balance right?

The Right Message at the Right Time

It is essential to balance privacy with relevance to avoid scaring and annoying customers to the point they feel uneasy and switch off from the brand’s communications. And the repercussions extend way beyond losing a customer; misusing data could see an organisation incur devastating GDPR fines and a damaged reputation. A high-profile example is Facebook’s role in a data protection violation involving Cambridge Analytica in 2018, for which the social network has now agreed to pay a maximum possible fine of £500,000.

This points to the importance of leveraging consumer data in a responsible way, and the need for marketers to prioritise relevancy. By taking a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing to the connected consumers, marketers fail to maximise the moment and convey their message when it’s most likely to resonate. Doing this leaves consumers with a positive impression, a credible brand, and resonance that can carry forward towards conversion.

Tips for Businesses

A few simple actions can protect businesses and ensure they do not alienate their customers. New technology can handle journey design and product recommendations, but marketers are responsible for keeping these interactions at reasonable levels. Marketers must think carefully about how relevant and timely automated triggers are and take advantage of the technologies that facilitate send-time optimisation for marketing messages.

Brands can enlist AI to translate customer intelligence into relevant offers. Most consumers will ‘ghost’ a brand that sends too many irrelevant offers. Let AI engines crunch real-time data from universal consumer profiles into on taste, situational offers that are highly targeted.

Transparency is also a key success factor. Businesses need to be open and transparent with consumers about why their data is being requested, how it will be used, and what benefit customers can expect in return. This is not only a major tenet of GDPR rules, but also an important business practice in helping customers to understand the data-value exchange.

Finally, maintaining the balance of personalisation and privacy will be key for marketers. They can do this by focusing on the customer experience and using technology to foster a long-term relationship built on trust and understanding. Get it right, and the rewards of fostering profitable, long-lasting relationships with consumers are immense. There is no point in playing it safe. Instead, marketers should embrace new channels with confidence and outshine the competition.